My Guide to the Happiest Place on Earth
Where to Stay
There are so many options of places to stay that are close to Disneyland Park. It can be confusing since a lot of places will advertise that they are next door to the park. Technically this is true but what you need to be aware of is that there is only two places to enter the Parks. Through Downtown Disney or on the opposite side of that. So while a Hotel might back up to the park it could still be a 10-15 min. walk to the entrance. So view the map of where your hotel is in relation to the entrances.
When booking a hotel I would say the site Get Away Today has the best rates. Not only are the rates usually cheaper but they will also offer extras that the hotel doesn't complimentarily give such as: free parking, free breakfast, free shuttle service and so on. The major downside is that there is a cancellation fee, or you can buy the insurance.
For us the trifecta was a the Clarion hotel that offered a room big enough for 6 people- 2 queens and a pullout, free breakfast, and free parking. Their rates are stay 2 nights get the 3rd free which was just right for us at only $311. Bonus they also had fridge to keep our sack lunches for the park cold. It took about 10-15 min to walk but it saved us $18+ a day on parking.
If I had small children who are nap takers the long walks are hard for, I would try and stay at a hotel right across from the park entrance.
There is also Disney's Grand Californian Hotel which is literally located inside the park with a private entrance to Grand California. We have stayed here and really enjoyed it, with a beautiful pool, excellent dining and events for the kids, but mind you it is at Least 3-4 times the price most hotels.
Where to Park
If you found a hotel that is within walking distance I would highly recommend walking it will give you more freedom and take less time than any of the other options, which all require some walking and can take a while to get you to your car.
If you need to park somewhere else you have a few choices. Downtown Disney offers parking, where the first 2 hours are free and then additionally it is $12 or $36 for the day. This puts you right at Downtown Disney where you will then walk a few minutes to get to the entrance or you can take the Monorail which takes you right into the park.
Pumba Parking lot, it right across from the main entrance to Disneyland its $18, it gets filled up pretty fast though.
Then there is the Toy Story parking lots, $18 get you a day pass where you hop on a bus that takes you as close to the entrance as you can get. The buses run all day and I have never had to wait more than 5 min to board one. But the ride to and from the park is about 5-10 min. These are located off of Harbor Blvd.
Last is the Mickey and Friends parking structure, also $18. This was my Least favorite, after we parked we walked quite a ways to get to the tram that took a while, where it lets you out in Downtown Disney so then you have to walk to the entrance. I wasn't happy with it, it didn't help that it was raining so it didn't keep us very dry. It also seemed that this option may be a little more difficult with strollers.
What to Eat
Ahh my favorite part. When I take my family to Disneyland it usually breaks the bank, I do wish that Disney offered some type of multi child discount, sadly they do not. So my 5 kids and I, are left to find savings elsewhere. Something I do love is that Disneyland DOES let you bring food and drinks into the park ( but not Selfie Sticks!!)
For breakfast we always eat at the hotel ( hopefully free) if not some type of granola bar or cold cereal if you have a fridge. Then we LOAD our backpacks up with filling snacks and water bottles for the day. Trust me when I say overpack, it's amazing how hungry kids get in the park while waiting in endless lines. We also stop at the Walmart on Katella about a mile from the park, and load up on lunch stuff such as; uncrustables, lunchables. Then if we leave the park fairly early we head out to one of the restaurants nearby.
But this is DISNEYLAND and they have some Great food, so you need to let yourself splurge a little bit and try some of it. Since I Don't do grocery store lunches I buy something yummy for myself and let my kids try a little of it, chances are if your kids are like mine they like the store bought stuff above all else anyway. While Disney food Is expensive there are ways to stretch a buck, and places that make it a little easier.
For dinner one night my son and I each got a bread bowl with soup, while the soup won't feed more than one person the bread bowl was huge and super filling so I got my 3 young kids a Huge Turkey Leg to share ( seriously it was Heavy). I let them go to town on that and the bread from our bowl. Amazingly that filled up all 5 of us and it was only $35 not bad for dinner at Disneyland. At California Adventure I bought all my kids hot dogs at Award Wieners, they came with a bag of chips or apples and were only about $7 so not too bad either. The sit down restaurants can get kind of pricy and will suck up your time at the park so be aware of that.
Disneyland is Crowded that is a FACT, but in my experience when you go can make a difference. Obviously going on the weekdays of non holidays is best but clearly that isn't always an option. Friday, Saturday & Sunday are crazy packed so if you must go on those days your best best is to go EARLY! Some hotels and multi day tickets can offer you Magic Morning which allows you to enter the park an hour earlier than it officially opens ( the two parks alternate Magic Morning) . This is key, you can end up getting more done in that hour than you could in 6 hours during peak time. If you don't have Magic Morning entrance, be there when the doors open, have a plan and hit the most busy rides first. At around noon the park starts really getting busy and it just keeps getting busier. Also start getting Fast Passes, for those rides that have at least a 45-90 minute wait on a regular basis. This allows you to come back at the appropriate time to ride the ride with minimal wait. Another must it the disney rides app that has lots of information including dining, hours, maps and my favorite Wait Times. I am constantly checking the app for the wait times and then planning our next spot accordingly. The app is called Magic Guide and it's a necessity!
And last but not least the most important piece of wisdom I can share with you is , Take A Fanny Pack- seriously best theme park accessory you can have. Keep everything you need up front and right on hand. You will need to get to your passes, money & phone constantly and having to take off your backpack and dig it out will start getting OLD trust me, plus its Super stylish.
Going to Disneyland can be Magical it can also be stressful and confusing so hopefully this can help the trip more smooth and enjoyable please feel free to share and check out our hashtag #seeittryitloveitdisney to see all the great food we have tried.